Internal Dialogue of a Female Kettlebell Lifter: Part 2

Kettlebell Sport is an endurance sport more than anything else - not just of the body, but of the mind. Lifters push through an immense amount of discomfort to get through the mental and physical battle of a 10 minute set."What were you thinking while you were lifting?" is a common question from spectators, and as an athlete you often wonder whether everyone else on the platform next to you is struggling as much as you are. This series of posts is a chance to get a glimpse into the mind of a wide variety of lifters of all nationalities while completing a 10 minute set - male, female, beginner, elite, Bolt style, Girevoy Sport style, etc. 

- KB Fit Britt

"So there I was... 140. My heart rate anticipating the countdown. Holy crap it was just 110 half an hour ago when I was playing with my kid. 50 reps. Five reps per minute is the plan. Every twelve seconds. 60, 48, 36, 24, 12. 60, 48, 36, 24, 12. I keep repeating the count. The goal has always been 50 reps. 165. My heart rate spikes 25 beats per minute as I grab hold of the bells. The thought of competition. The possibility of failing is serious for me. Is it healthy that it weighs so heavy? 3-2-1-go! The first minute is an all-out fight with myself not to rush to the finish. It takes all my power to wait out the first 12 seconds without moving the bells. That first rep always has way too much power behind it and I feel like I am going to fly off the platform. 175. Minute three and my nerves are settled. Now doubt enters my mind. Am I on pace to hit the numbers? Will I make the full ten minutes? Am I breathing too fast? How is my heart rate? Am I going to pee my pants? Oh crap, time for another rep. The urge to put the bells down is the strongest in the first three minutes. 180. Just past half way. Now it is a matter of will and conditioning. Attention is all on the count. 60. Go. 48. Go. 36. Go. And so on. My coach says this is the pace. Until I die. 188. Ninety seconds left. It is all heart at this point. The last three minutes is when I am mentally the strongest. Those minutes my brain is the bully on the school bus, and my body is way too scared to even think of putting the bells down. Then it's all over and the bells hit the platform."

Kimberly Fox, Kansas World Record Holder in 2x24kg Long Cycle Great Plains Kettlebell Club

"By now , I've done quite a lot of 10 minute sets (or even  longer) in two arm long cycle and this is what goes on  in my mind during the 10 minutes:

Minute 1:  This feels great! Don't start too fast, stick to the pace!
Minute 2: Just warming up!
Minute 3: The bells still feel light!
Minute 4: I'm breaking a bit of a sweat.
Minute 5: Just relax in rack! Be efficient! Don't waste any energy!!!
Minute 6: I'm getting into a deep shit!
Minute 7: I am now in a deep shit!
Minute 8: How great it would be to put them down now! Oh NO! What a stupid idea it would be to put them down now! I can slow down if I need to just to survive!
Minute 9: I survived until now so there is NO WAY I'm going to put them down now! Just keep going at ANY possible pace!
Minute 10: OMG, omg just 60 seconds left. I am now going to squeeze everything out of me. Time to sprint, give it all, concentrate at every single rep as one little mistake could terminate my set!
Last 15 seconds: I can't believe I had all this (energy) still in me!!!??? How did I want to put them down from minute 7 onwards and now I'm actually doing a sprint???
Set is over: I am so happy I didn't put them down, the numbers don't even matter to me , I just survived 10 minutes!!
Katarina Helcmanovska, United Kingdom

"Minute 1: Set the pace. Get a feel for how the set is going to go. Is it a strong day or is it going to be a fight?

Minute 2: Stay relaxed. Focus purely on technique. One wrong swing can muck up your hands and ruin your set, so during a Snatches I think about keeping my grip relaxed, my elbow close to my body on the down swing and using my breath to power up into the catch at the top.

Minute 3: Typically the most challenging minute of the set. This is where the aggression comes out. I’ve made it through before, today is no different. This stupid bell doesn’t weigh that much…..

Minute 4: This goes one of two ways – it’s either challenging or refreshing because I’m on the downside of the set. Either way I’m focused on finishing the set strong. Only two minutes left.

Minute 5: Last minute for the first hand – show the left hand how it’s done!

Minutes 6-10 follow a very similar pattern. Get a feel for the new hand and then focus on technique. Since fatigue is increased on this arm, I focus on just getting through each minute. I stare at the clock and count my reps to maintain pace. Right around the 7th minute I start thinking about all of the times I’ve been squished to the point of thinking my ribs were going to pop in Jiu Jitsu, but I haven’t tapped to pressure, and I won’t tap in a kettlebell set. Just breathe, lift, and repeat. As the last two minutes approach, it’s all about surviving. Hit the rep count. Make the time. The final minute is game on. It doesn’t matter if my hands rip, it doesn’t matter if I throw the bell, just leave my mark and get what I came for."

Tasha Nichols, Indiana

What I think about during 24kg OALC aiming for 120 reps: 

1: “Here we go, nice and easy. Go when you’re ready. Don’t work. Breathe. Oh man, this hurts already. I don’t feel like this today. JEN! It’s just nerves. Check in – going to fast, slow up.”

2 & 3: “I’m ahead of pace, an extra rep to bank for later. This is a good song.  Jen, don’t sing, focus! One clean, one jerk. Oh! “[So and so]” is here, I haven’t seen them in awhile! Focus. Find a spot. Keep your eyes there. Check in – tighter cleans, breathing is good, legs getting heavy already, use your glutes.”

4: “Ughhh, there is that stomach pain. It’s been worse. You’re ok. Two 13’s, one 12 = two 11’s in the bank. I’m ok, I can get another 12 here. Shoot, I made eye contact with someone, awkward, smile.. Jen, stop smiling. Pay attention!”

5:  “Alright, another 12! Feeling better as I go. You’re ahead of pace. Make this 12 if it happens naturally but don’t push it. Good fixation, every rep, just like the first minute. You’re doing this!”

6:  “Ahhh, fresh, strong arm. Ok, 2 extra reps to spare. Easy minute, don’t push. Breathe. Recover. Tight clean, relaxed grip, quick jerk, steady fixation, relax, drop, drop. Focus on the clock. Pace.”

7 & 8:  “Ughh my legs. They don’t feel right. Use your glutes. Glutes, glutes, glutes! You’re ok.  I'm glad my team is not cheering too much yet, they're awesome.  Ohh no someone dropped their bell.  Jennn!  Stay in your own head.”

9:  “Ughhh this feels horrible.  My stomach.  I feel like death! This isn’t new, you’re fine.  Pain for 2 minutes and it’s all over. It’s worth it.  Slow up.  You have 2 extra reps.  Drop to a 10 and then go from there.”

10:  “I did it!  I’ve got this.  Relax, you’re not there yet.  (Cheering increasing) Stay in your own head. Don’t push it.  Don’t drop the bell.  One clean.  One jerk.  Solid fixation to the end.  Hold on with everything you’ve got.  Mind in every single rep.  Don’t get sloppy.  Two more reps.  Done.”

Jennifer Hintenberger, Canada

"The minute right before any 10 minute set is a mix of every emotion imaginable. I start excited and work my way to extremely nervous.

Minute 1 is always the easiest. This is when I'm determining how heavy the bell (or bells) feel and I set my pace. Since I have only competed in Bolt events, I can set down or switch as much as I need to. I'm filled with adrenaline so I usually power through as many reps as I possibly can in a minute.

Minutes 2 to 5 are usually slower for me. Looking into the crowd is so encouraging and I can ALWAYS hear my team cheering. I'm usually more relaxed at this point since I'm more in my groove and staying on pace.

Minute 6. Wow the bells seem to gain 20lbs. The last meet I kept saying to myself each rep 'Wow, these are heavy. So heavy.' but I just look at my team and all the supporters and keep pushing.

Around minute 7 I get my second wind. I usually put the bell down at this point and catch my breath for about 15 seconds. Then I start speeding up.

Minutes 8 to 9 are the same: speeding up. I don't go 100% because I save that for...

Minute 9 to 10. I'm at 100% capacity at this point. I'm tired, anxious, nervous, happy it's almost over, and almost every emotion again. Right around 9:30 I go for as many last second reps I can get. By that last second I'm ready to fall on the ground.

10 minutes in kettlebell lifting heavy can feel like an hour sometimes, but it's so rewarding. The hugs and high fives I get and the "good jobs" make it all worth it and the feeling of death goes away rather quickly."

Maria De Mesa, California

"I concentrate on establishing a rapport with the judge during the first minute: making eye contact and confirming that my reps are good.

During competition jerk sets, my attention is on technique and positioning – there is really no other choice. At every point in the set, I am giving myself cues: straight legs in the rack, the drop from overhead, breathing, relaxing and staying on the planned pace. In the last 2 minutes, I just think of each individual rep rather than the bigger picture.

During competition (and training) snatch sets, I pay very little attention to the time, especially with the 24kg. I rely on how the reps feel and I always count in my head. Again, I have cues: insertion for my right hand, paying attention to my backswing, hip drive on the left, relaxation and breathing. After the hand switch, it usually takes me about out 10 reps to get back on track. So the cue there is simply: “do 10 reps”, and then I’m good to go. At the end, I am usually able to pick out the most helpful voice in the room (not the person yelling “10 more reps!”, but the person who is giving me specific cues, such as “keep your arm close, more legs, get under the bell, etc.”).

Long Cycle is a similar experience. My worst competition sets have been when external stimuli have taken my attention away from what my body is doing. It takes practice, but I find that my most successful approach is to be rationally mindful of what I physically need to, and am able to do - because at the end of the day, competition is the result of preparation."

Kathryn Golbeck, Canada 2015 Team Canada member, 24kg snatch event, 68kg weight class

"Minute 1: My heart rate usually spikes a bit out of nerves, even in a test, so I often come out of the gate a bit fast. I allow myself an extra rep in minute one and then slow down into my pace. In my head "Breathe...breathe..find the rhythm and settle in."

Minute 2: "Yay, only 12 this time!"

Minute 3: "Okay, halfway. Don't forget to breathe." I break my 13 RPM sets into 4 reps in 15 seconds, then 3 sets of three reps for the other 15 second increments. "1, 2, 3, 4. Good. 1, 2, 3. Only two more. 1, 2, 3. One more. 1, 2, 3."

Minute 4: Starting to feel it in my grip a bit. "1, 2, 3. 4, 5, 6. 18 more, stay with it. 1, 2, 3. 4, 5, 6." A set of 12 is counted, I don't know why! :D

Minute 5: "This is it, almost there. 1, 2, 3. Breathe. One more rep." At some point in the last minute, I switch to one rep at a time, keeping my full concentration on each one.


Minute 7: "1, 2, 3. Wait, am I at 78 or 79? Stop doing math and count. 4, 5, 6."

Minute 8: This is where my memory gets blurry and I don't actually remember anything.

Minute 9: "This is the worst idea I ever had! No, wait. stay focused, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6."

Minute 10: "Keep. Going. One. More. Rep. Keep. Going. Don't. Stop."

And then: PR!"

Jenn Casey, Georgia

"Every ten minute kettlebell set, regardless of the lift I'm doing or the weight I'm using, has two things in common: it feels like the longest ten minutes of my life and it goes by in the blink of an eye.

I always feel really nervous before my set begins; I wonder if I have truly prepared for the lift as I should have, and I wonder if the bells will feel light or heavy when I pick them up. But as soon as I see that ten second countdown to start, I zone in, tell myself I'm going to kick some serious kettlebooty, and grab ahold of the handle.

The first two minutes go by quickly as my adrenaline gives me that extra boost of energy. Minutes 3-5 are still ok, and I tell myself that even though I'm starting to feel winded, everything is fine and I can make it through. Then minute 5 hits, and I am struggling. I start trying to reason with myself - should I just stop? Is it ok if I don't hit the same numbers I hit during practice? What will people think if I get a bad score? Was I overly ambitious when I picked this weight?

But then I hear my coach and teammates cheering me on, and by minute 7, my second wind has hit and I get fierce. I tell myself that I am strong, prepared, and ready to finish this set. I push through with sprint sets until the end. I always feel so accomplished when I'm done, regardless of my final score."

Lauren Weiss, California

Website: Lauren Weiss Fitness

Min. 1 : Oh crap this thing is heavy. Check breathing, extend backswing. Does the judge like my reps? Am I counting correctly?

Min. 2 : Is my hand relaxed? Staying on pace? Keep connection.

Min. 3 : Is this thing still heavy? Hand still in tact? Extend backswing, straighten legs.

Min. 4 : Countdown total minimum reps, calculate if I'm ahead or behind. Can I get two more minutes on this side?

Min. 5 : Relax hand, breathing check. Can I keep the pace with my hand in tact? Think about the next event today. Switch if hand has broken skin.

Min. 6 : If not switched yet, get 30 seconds at pace, then 45…. If switched, count for pacing. Relax my hand and extend the back swing.

Min. 7 : Trance out.

Min. 8 : Calculate total reps to achieve minimum rep count. Are there still other lifters in this flight? What music is playing? Relax my hand, extend the backswing.

Min. 9 : Focus on technique. Is there a sprint in here? Don't lift like an asshole. At least sprint the last 15 seconds. All good reps.

Christian Goldberg, Colorado


See the rest of the series herehere, and here.

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